Easy TESL Reward Systems

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Rewards are powerful motivators and can be used to increase your students’ productivity, behavior, study habits, and English skills. Everyone likes to receive a compliment, a shiny sticker, or even a high-five for a job well done. Your students are no exception to this. They love to see that you are paying attention to them and rewarding them for their efforts.

If you decide to use a Reward System for your students (and I highly recommend you do) here are some easy ones to get you started. I divided this list into two: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Rewards. The Extrinsic Rewards require some kind of effort or cost on your part – most are very affordable and easy to set up. The Intrinsic Rewards don’t cost you anything and most of them can be implemented with little to no prep at all.

I should also preface by saying that I have used each and every one of these methods – hope they help you too!

Extrinsic Rewards:

  1. Stickers: My go-to reward for large classes with young students (aged 3-6).

royalty-free-light-bulb-clipart-illustration-102808Hand out to the top 10 students at the end of every class. They love sticking it on their shirt to show off to their parents. It’s also a great way to reinforce Classroom Rules.

  1. Fake Money: I like to use Fake Money because (for some strange reason) the students go nuts for it – especially the boys. It’s also easy to replace and doesn’t pose as many distractions as say, bingo counters or cute erasers.

royalty-free-light-bulb-clipart-illustration-102808Use a bill as payment for a correct answer or take one away as punishment for misbehavior. Next time you have a class that is slow or shy to answer, try holding up a fake bill and saying “Who can tell me….?” At the end of the class you can either declare a winner based on who has the most, or what I like to do is let the students ‘buy’ something. For example: 5 bills buy you a sticker, 10 bills buy you a treat, 15 bills buy you no homework! Yay!

  1. Certificates: This is a nice reward to hand out at the end of the course unless your school already has end-of-course certificates.

There are plenty of free websites where you can download, customize, and print these certs to present to your students as a reward for sticking it out. Here are some sites worth checking out if you’re interested: CertificateStreet, DLTK, BillyBear4Kids, TeacherVision(huge variety), ActivityVillage, and many more are just a google search away!

  1. Merit Badges: This is a very flexible reward and you can customize it to build and acknowledge good habits. Most of the websites listed above have printable merit badges and you can hand these out at the end of every class.

royalty-free-light-bulb-clipart-illustration-102808Some ideas for badges are Top Student, Super Speller, and Best Friend (to encourage students to be sociable and kind). Have the class vote on who gets which badge – this will avoid cries of favoritism and involve the entire class in the decision-making process.

  1. Progress Charts: A very popular and effective reward system if set up right. There are many variations and styles of reward charts and some work better than others. Make your own chart or download one for free from one of these sites: Stickersandcharts, Kidpointz, theteachersguide, and Latitudes.

royalty-free-light-bulb-clipart-illustration-102808One chart that worked for me when nothing else did was a Student of the Week display in the front of the class. At the end of the week the class would vote and that student got their photo put up on the display. The parents loved it and would take selfies and pictures to show off that their kid was the Student of the Week, even offering them MacDonalds to repeat their success. Note: I made sure each student made it on the display at least once.

  1. Others: (cute erasers, little pens, etc..) These are also good incentives to keep your kids working hard at learning their stuff. The downside is you have to buy them regularly and risk your students breaking out in tears if someone else gets the one they wanted. I tend to avoid this one as I feel it’s more of a bribe than the other methods.

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Intrinsic Rewards:

  1. Compliments
  2. Classroom position such as Teacher’s Helper
  3. Special Selection (games, worksheets, etc…)
  4. Handshake/High-five

At this moment, I’m not going to go into details on Intrinsic Rewards. Perhaps in the future I’ll cover each in more depth but I feel like they are pretty self-explanatory. If you are interested in knowing more about a particular one, please don’t hesitate to email me and I’ll be happy to discuss more with you.

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Which reward system should you go for? In my experience, I’ve found that each student responds differently to each reward. For a reward system to be effective, it must be something that the student really wants or values.

For example: If you’re teaching a group of 10 year-old boys, I wouldn’t suggest using Certificates or Progress Charts as boys prefer immediate rewards. Fake Money works great because they love to count it out and show off.

My advice: Try out several of these rewards and notice how your students respond. You’ll get a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t. From there, it’s just up to you to adapt and perfect your reward system.

Feel free to shoot me an email anytime (teslbug@gmail.com) if you’re having a hard time with a particular student or class and I’d be more than happy to help in any way I can.

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